(c) Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada. Contact CPA Canada for permission to reproduce this article., (c) The Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada. Contact CPA Canada for permission to reproduce this article.

ASK AN EXPERT: How can I get team members to move past their conflicts?

By Steven Dinkin

Disputes will pop up even in the most cordial workplaces. But if you have the tools you need to work toward productive resolutions, you and your staff can use them to strengthen your organization rather than harm it. These tips will help turn your next meeting with conflicting staff into a productive conversation:

Start with an icebreaker. Ask for one person’s take on something that’s both work-related and positive. For example, if the conflict involves two employees involved in a project, you might break the ice by asking both of them how they became involved and what they hoped to achieve.

Work toward SMART solutions. That means specific (who will do what, when, where and how); measurable (to know when something has been accomplished); achievable (don’t set anyone up to fail); realistic (allow extra time for glitches and delays)and timed (create reasonable deadlines). Once you have your SMART solutions in place, immediately put them in writing to keep everyone on track.

Use and encourage positive language. For example, you could say, “This has increasingly affected the entire team, and we need to address it so we can get everyone’s focus back on the project goals and having a comfortable working environment.” Don’t fall into repeating verbatim paragraphs from your company’s HR manual.

Listen. Ask an open-ended question. It can be as simple as, “So, tell me, what’s going on?” Then listen carefully to that person’s side of the story. Acknowledge his or her emotions without seeming as though you are taking sides.

Steven Dinkin is president of the US National Conflict Resolution Center (www.ncrconline.com)

This article was originally published in the January/February 2012 issue of CAmagazine.